World hunger reached a five-year high in 2020 and a third of the world population — 2.3 billion people — did not have access to adequate nutrition. 

Conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change were all factors contributing to food shortage. It is estimated that 720 million to 811 million people worldwide did not have enough to eat last year and at this rate, up to 660 million people may still be undernourished by 2030.

While sending immediate aid to those in need might sound like the best solution to ending hunger, there’s another, more sustainable alternative. Women and girls prepare most of the world’s meals and grow much of its food, and empowering them to receive the same opportunities and boys and men might be what it takes to prevent famine.

Women are responsible for meeting many of the basic needs in a household, including meals, but they often lack the resources, education, and opportunity to support their families. 

Here’s everything you need to know about how investing in women and girls can end hunger worldwide. 

What Is World Hunger?

Hunger is when populations go days without eating due to lack of money, access to food, or other resources. Women make up the majority of people experiencing hunger around the world due to gender discrimination. Empowering women and girls is one of the most effective ways to protect populations that lack food and are at risk of famine.

3 Key Things to Know About Hunger and Women & Girls

  • Of the 690 million people who are food insecure worldwide, 60% are women and girls.
  • When families experience economic hardship, women and girls are usually the first to sacrifice their food even though they work harder to secure meals for the household. 
  • By providing women farmers the same access to productive resources as men, the total agricultural output in developing countries would increase by up to 4% and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12% to 17%.

How Many People Would Benefit From Empowering Women & Girls to End Hunger? 

Small-scale agriculture growth is two to four times more effective at reducing hunger and poverty than any other industry, and women farmers are playing an important role in that effort. Women farmers with adequate resources could produce output at the same level or better than men and decrease the number of people experiencing hunger in the world by 100 million. 

Women farmers with more opportunities increase their incomes and yields, manage natural resources better, improve nutrition, and help secure livelihoods

In societies where women and girls are supported and empowered, everyone benefits — families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves, and incomes increase. One study found that increased women’s education contributed 43% of the reduction in child malnutrition over time, while food availability only accounted for 26%. 

When women earn more income they are more likely to use their money to feed and support their families. Women reinvest up to 90% of their earnings back into their households by spending money on nutrition, food, health care, school, and lucrative activities — all of which help break cycles of generational poverty.

Who Would See the Most Benefits, and Why? 

People are experiencing hunger in countries around the world for reasons that range from limited food supply to increasing food prices. Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan, and Yemen are already experiencing famine-like conditions, and nearly three dozen more countries could experience famine, putting 130 million more people at risk of starvation. Of the 768 million undernourished people in 2020, 418 million were in Asia, 282 million in Africa, and 60 million in Latin America in the Caribbean. 

Children are one of the groups most vulnerable to hunger because they depend on adults for food. Approximately 3.1 million children die from inadequate nutrition every year. Children’s developing bodies are also more prone to other problems caused by hunger. Hungry children tend to experience health problems and struggle in school, whereas children who are fed and nourished learn better and are more likely to receive employment opportunities in adulthood that allow them to break out of poverty.

Women and girls are also commonly the first in their families to bear the brunt of hunger even as they work harder to secure food for their households. Young girls often care for relatives at home, and are the last to eat if food is in short supply, or families might marry off their daughters because it’s one fewer mouth to feed. Women suffer the most from nutrient deficiencies, especially during reproductive years, negatively impacting development that is passed down through generations. 

How Can We Actually Empower Women & Girls to Fight Hunger? 

Unequal access to education and economic opportunity leaves women without much power to make decisions about food at home. When women participate in household decisions, they produce and earn more, and family income increases by as much as 20%. Ensuring that girls can go to school and that women receive the chance to make a livable income increases their ability to make better nutritional choices for themselves and their community. 

Funding women farmers, electing women leaders, promoting equal education for girls, providing access to maternal and child health care, and ending harmful practices like child marriage could all empower women and girls to fight hunger. 

How Does This Relate to Poverty and the Global Goals? 

Poverty is the main driver of hunger. As of 2017, the last year of official measurements, 9.2% of the global population — or 689 million people — lived in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to push 100 million more people into extreme poverty. Rural communities are more likely to live in poverty and be hungry because they have limited opportunities and are in isolated areas with poor infrastructure and without transportation. 

Millions of people living in developing countries produce their food on smallholder farms that are less than five acres in size. Smallholder farmers face many challenges that put them at risk of hunger, such as growing enough food to feed their families, depending on weather conditions to harvest crops, and getting enough nutritious food. 

The United Nations’ Global Goal 2 aims to achieve zero hunger by 2030 by achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. 

Who Are the Key Players in Empowering Girls and Women to Help End Hunger?

Governments have a responsibility to address the barriers keeping women in agriculture from thriving. Securing land rights as well as providing women farmers with funding and the resources to adapt to climate change are crucial to their protection and increase their productivity. 

Nonprofit organizations and NGOs are also centering gender equality in the fight against hunger. The international organization Action Against Hunger trains thousands of community health workers, the majority of whom are women, to educate their communities about nutrition and screen for malnutrition.  

The United Nations is working to empower women with information, training, and equal access to resources and agricultural, nutrition, and health support services.

According to the World Food Programme, the United Nations agency focusing on food assistance, creating a world with zero hunger is only possible when everyone has equal access to resources and decisions. The organization is calling for food assistance policies and programs to create conditions to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment as part of the effort.

The United Nations’ women’s organization UN Women is also acting to stop hunger by supporting women’s role in food security through advancing gender and climate-smart agricultural policies.

What Action Can We All Take to Help? 

The world needs to get back on track to achieving zero hunger by 2030. Increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable food production is necessary to tackle the threat of famine. Global Citizens can urge leaders to get back on track to achieving gender equality, pass funding to support smallholder farmers who provide food to millions of the world’s poorest, and ensure that they prioritize climate adaptation that allows farmers to withstand droughts and floods to help end hunger.

You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.

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Demand Equity

How Can Empowering Women & Girls Help End World Hunger?

By Leah Rodriguez